Re-Shaping the Expected Future

Over the last two weeks, we have been filming and editing short videos that document the workshops and summits run by UK based research team, The FITLab. Their work revolves around looking at the complex technological devices that aim to change our lives such as the things in our homes, cars, mobile phones or medical devices. Their nuanced focus lies in user interface design which has long been considered as the grand challenge of computer science. Considered more of an art than a discipline, there has been no system for combining input from different disciplines and no way of predicting whether a use interface design will work for end users or not. FIT – meaning Future Interaction Technologies – has a central research aim to radically innovate key interaction needs of emergent users through drawing on a network of organisation and designing technology in collaboration with the end-users themselves. Their aspiration is to uncover fundamental, generally applicable interaction and transaction techniques for emergent users based in resource-constrained areas which are not usually demographics that new technologies are designed for.

This was the reason for them being in Cape Town for the past two weeks. Following up initial design suggestions from a workshops last year, the FITlab team – consisting of Matt Jones, Simon Robinson and Jen Pearson – returned with new designs and ideas for technologies that they built after workshops with communities in Kenya, India and South Africa last year. The first two days were based in Langa, running workshops intended to introduce participants to these new designs and to get feedback about the usefulness of the technologies they were testing and building in the UK. I arrived at the Langa library to film the first day of workshops with participants from Langa and on the second day, Jamie joined me to do interviews and sound recording of the workshop being run with participants from Langa, Khayelitsha and Delft.

Shooting was fun and being present at the workshops was interesting and followed by two days of intense editing in order to get the workshop videos together in time for the Re-Shaping the Expected Future summit being held at the Breakwater lodge that Friday. I got the videos together in time, albeit with slightly less sleep than usual, and then Jamie and I bustled off for an early morning to get to the summit. The one-day event was focused around bringing together a range of researchers, developers and business entrepreneurs to collaboratively respond to and think about what the future might bring for emergent mobile users over the next five to ten years. The day consisted of much group work and discussions where attendees assessed and critiqued current technologies as well as their future visions of what technologies could be in response to the input from the participants from the workshops earlier in the week. What arose was a series of new concepts, design provocations and innovations that the FITlab team will use as data when conceptualising how to design new devices, services, content, interfaces and interactions that could transform uptake and benefits within communities of emergent users. The end goal being that the team will use the outputs of the day along with insights from the emergent user groups in Cape Town, Nairobi and Mumbai to develop a series of open-source prototypes that will be deployed next year
I edited the footage from the day into a second video and Jamie, myself and the FITlab team returned to Langa the following week to screen both videos to the participants who informed and engaged with the workshops the previous week and are central to the design development that the FITlab plans to undertake over the next year.

Whilst the videos we made were not originally intended to form part of the conservation through education project, we feel that the first video clip that we put together was highly relevant to the series and have decided to release a director’s cut as a second episode. The work being done by the FITlab in collaboration with the communities, universities and researchers that they are in conversation with are obviously extremely socially and technologically focused but their ethos and approach is definitely centrally focused around cultural conservation through understanding needs from a grassroots level. This, in our eyes, is a much needed and very commendable approach to technological design and development that we here at JDBA have not come across in any capacity prior to our involvement with this workshop series. What we were also really impressed by is that despite their social focus, much of the conversation that came out of this week of research was that many of the solutions that people are suggesting and desiring in technologies entails systems of recycling or utilizing already existing and/or neglected technologies in new and exciting ways. This means that finding the technologies of the future through FITLab inherently looks at the two pronged approach of combining socially and environmentally friendly tactics that are not driven by economic or market gains but rather intend to be centralised around improving the quality of life through innovative problem solving.

Below are the two videos that we made with, and for, the FITLab team. Centrally, the intention of the work being done at FITlab is to make their findings as open source and easily accessible as possible which directly mirrors our intent of freely-distributed, media-based educational resources here at JDBA.

Re-Shaping the Expected Future
Camera and Editing by Desmond Bowles
Sound and production by Jamie Dimitra Ashton
In collaboration with the FITlab, Swansea University